T hir­teen? Let’s hope so – the 13th sea­son of the Hyundai A-League is about to kick off, and while the build-up has been in­ter­rupted by off-field dra­mas in­volv­ing the FFA, clubs and the game's congress, there’s noth­ing like a new sea­son to drag atten­tion back to what re­ally matters – the foot­ball. In that re­gard, the omens are good.€ High-pro­file mar­quees may be in short sup­ply (the wealth of MLS in Amer­ica and the Chi­nese Su­per League has largely put paid to that), but the clubs ap­pear to have been savvy in their re­cruit­ment, se­cur­ing a mix­ture of good-qual­ity over­seas tal­ent, and a fair few Aussies who return home with plenty still in the tank.

Case in point is the reign­ing cham­pion, Syd­ney FC.€ While the his­tory books show de­fend­ing a ti­tle is a tricky busi­ness, Gra­ham Arnold’s team seems to have a de­cent chance of do­ing just that.€ Reel­ing from the loss of Danny Vukovic (to Bel­gian club, Genk), and Rhyan Grant to in­jury, the Sky Blues have found what on pa­per are ex­cel­lent re­place­ments: ex-Ley­ton Ori­ent stop­per Alex Cisak, and 80-times capped Soc­ceroo Luke Wilk­shire.€

Throw in Pol­ish in­ter­na­tional player Adrian Mierze­jew­ski, along with the re­ten­tion of Mi­los Ninkovic and Bobo, and Syd­ney is de­cent odds to repli­cate Bris­bane Roar’s back-to-back suc­cesses in 2010-11 and ’11-12.

Last year’s beaten grand fi­nal­ists, the Mel­bourne Vic­tory, have repa­tri­ated Soc­ceroo Mark Mil­li­gan, for­mer favourite Thomas Deng, and (aœer a sea­son with Wellington) Kosta Bar­barouses as a re­place­ment for Marco Ro­jas.€ With the ver­sa­tile Rhys Wil­liams and the re­ten­tion of James Troisi, Vic­tory has a solid base for an­other ti­tle chal­lenge.

Bris­bane Roar’s squad has come un­der fire for be­ing too old, yet a list that con­tains 230 in­ter­na­tional caps be­tween them has to be re­spected.€ The 37-year-old Mas­simo Mac­carone was still knock­ing in goals in Italy’s Serie A last sea­son, and could be a de­cent re­place­ment for Jamie Ma­claren.€

City fell away last year, and new coach War­ren Joyce’s mis­sion is to make them more con­sis­tent.€ They’ve re­cruited solid ex­pe­ri­enced pros rather than big names this year – and Sco Jamieson, Eu­gene Galekovic, Ia­copo La Rocca and Ste­fan Mauk all know how to win in this league.

Perth Glory must find the so­lu­tion to their great­est co­nun­drum – a leaky de­fence – but at the time of writ­ing, only Sco Neville and Ja­cob Poscol­iero had been added in that re­gard.€ The screen­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of ex-West­ern Syd­ney Wan­derer An­dreu may help, how­ever.€ Goals at the other end shouldn’t be a prob­lem, with Andy Keogh, Diego Cas­tro and Adam Tag­gart all still part of the mix.

The West­ern Syd­ney Wan­der­ers are bank­ing on Oriol Riera pro­vid­ing his share of goals – the Spa­niard is the lat­est in a long line of over­seas attack­ing tal­ents re­cruited by the Wan­der­ers, many of whom haven’ t re­ally de­liv­ered .€ Else­where, ex­pe­ri­enced Aus­tralian sign­ings such as Michael Th­waite, Josh Ris­don and Chris Herd mean Tony Popovic’s team should be higher up the ta­ble this time around.

Can the same be said for last year’s bottom four? Cen­tral Coast Mariners ap­pear to be mak­ing the most progress, and have added some in­ter­est­ing for­eign tal­ent in As­drubal, Tom Hiariej and Wout Brama. €But it may just be a sea­son too soon for Paul Okon’s fast-im­prov­ing out­fit.

The other three have all had a change of coach – in come Ernie Mer­rick at New­cas­tle, the Bos­nian Dar­ije Kalezic at Wellington and Ger­many’s Marco Kurz at Ade­laide – the latter pair re­flect­ing the cos­mopoli­tan na­ture of the A-League.€ All may take time to make their mark.

In all, a min­i­mum of 23 dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties will be on show this com­ing sea­son, re­flect­ing foot­ball's mul­ti­cul­tural make-up, un­ri­valled by any other sport in Aus­tralia.

De­fend­ing a ti­tle is a tricky busi­ness, but Gra­ham Arnold’ s team seems to have a de­cent chance.

Bobo's re­ten­tion means Syd­ney FC stands a good chance of repli­cat­ing the Roar’s back-to-back ti­tle suc­cesses.

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